As a hearing care professional, you likely think that what matters most is how much you are able to help improve your patients’ hearing. But your patients likely think that what matters most is how they feel at your practice–about their outcome that results from your expert recommendations, as well as their experience with you and your staff during visits. There are many factors that influence the “patient experience” and how your patients feel about your hearing healthcare practice, from their first visit to your website to their first phone call to your office, the friendliness of your staff, and your manner and expertise in providing care. All these factors represent the “patient journey” and together impact the “patient experience.”
Although much has been said about the issues of hearing care access and affordability, patients today are looking for answers that go beyond price, features, facts, and figures. While studies from CareCredit show that today’s consumers regularly search online for information about hearing aids and hearing loss, including price, they are also looking for some guidance and direction to help them make sense of a confusing and emotional purchase. This article presents ways that you, the hearing care professional, can make the patient experience–throughout the entire patient journey–more effective and remarkable!
First things first…before the patient enters your door
Practice owners know that in this “Internet Age” consumers have tremendous amounts of hearing health information right at their fingertips. Consumers can easily shop online for hearing healthcare services and products at the “best” price. This shift has led to patient-centered care approaches: It puts patients in control of the purchase and service process.
So, before the patient schedules an appointment, he or she already knows what the competition is offering and at what price. The Hearing care practices with the strongest online presence will likely get the most attention initially, and attract more new patients. A responsive website for your practice is an important first contact for many healthcare consumers—it should provide plenty of helpful information and set the tone for a positive overall patient experience.
Enhancing the Patient Experience
After the consumer finds you online and likes what they see on your website—and decides to visit your practice in-person—how do you continue that positive patient experience? Here are some suggested steps you can take:
STEP 1: Present an inviting, professional practice. First impressions make a difference. In fact, the attributes of a hearing care office are among the top “best practice” factors for consumers who recommend a hearing care professional and the purchase of hearing aids, according to MarkeTrak VIII.
- The office environment should be comfortable, organized, and professional. Brochures and other informational pieces should be on hand. Front-office staff should be friendly and knowledgeable.
- To make your office environment both relaxing and educational, consider having a video program showing in your waiting room, such as those customized for practices by Hearing Health News Network. (HHN offers your clientele some practical tips about hearing health while they’re waiting to see you.) If people see your messages along with current news on hearing loss—plus educational clips on hearing health—it could leave a great impression.
STEP 2: Overcome objections. Be aware of common patient objections:
Fear – The audiologist or other hearing care provider does not have the right kind of information or enough of it.
Cost – Hearing aids are expensive. How much are the recommended hearing aids going to cost me?
Denial – My hearing issues are really not that bad, and I probably don’t yet need treatment for my hearing loss.
Overcoming fear includes spending time with the patient to gather a case history. This will give you a better understanding of what challenges he or she has faced and what level of care is needed to meet them.
To handle cost concerns, educate the consumer about why a certain technology best fits their needs. Explain the pluses and minuses of the lower-priced options you offer as well. Be sure to advise each patient about third-party payment plan options and have no-interest financing solutions ready, such as CareCredit, which allow patients to pay for hearing aids over time in more affordable monthly payments.
Finally, addressing patient denial is essential. This is where you need to listen carefully to their story and provide the right information and the costs involved, giving them time to think. The Patient’s Path to Hearing Healthcare Purchase Study sponsored by CareCredit found that patients take, on average, 97 days to make their purchase.
STEP 3: Build trust. Understand the “why.”
More practice owners are realizing the value of connecting with the consumer’s reason for a purchase—the “why.” It’s vital to figure out the consumer’s mindset and decision-making process before you can improve your approach. Find the “why” using the Discovery Conversation method: This method focuses on creating a special connection with each patient by asking probing questions to reveal the personal story about their hearing loss. The patient explains how not hearing well has impacted their life. Hearing care professionals who use this method are seeing more success with their practices, according to Steve Eagon, MA, Director of In-Clinic Success at Unitron, Plymouth, Minn.
Basic steps used in the Discovery Conversation:
- Ask focused questions – with the goal of connecting on an empathetic level and finding out the “why” surrounding the need for change.
- Keep digging – ask increasingly focused questions (layered “digging” questions) to uncover the patient’s personal story around their hearing issues.
- Uncover their motivation – for seeking hearing healthcare.
- Inspire partnership – encourage the patient to “own” his/her situation and create a partnership with you to solve “key hearing obstacles.”
To get started, here are sample questions that Eagon has found useful:
- “What two areas in your life are most important for you to hear better?”
- “When was the last time you were in that specific environment [tailor to the customer’s story] and had trouble hearing?”
- “Tell me about another recent time when you were in crowds or a noisy place and didn’t hear as well as you’d like.”
When you have the patient’s hearing health story, you’ve got a problem to solve! That’s when you can ask a qualifying question: “If I could improve your ability to understand what your friends are saying when you’re in a restaurant or in a crowded auditorium, then would this make a difference for you?”
Consumer psychologist Peter Noel Murray points out that when people are faced with a decision, their emotions from other experiences affect the options they are weighing. These emotions create preferences, which then drive their decisions.
STEP 4: Choose priorities. Start by making a list of ways to improve the patient experience, and then put them in order. After all, if you are not aware of what is needed to win your patients’ trust, then how can you make changes?
Many practices are focusing on these activities to improve the patient experience:
- Improving communication – provide clear, useful information that patients will understand and retain
- Training staff – make sure your staff is attentive and courteous to patients
- Making follow-up calls – stay on top of the next appointment needed
- Creating a performance scorecard – make a grid to show how you stack up against competitors and how you are doing compared to the first quarter
STEP 5: Evaluate the third-party financing company you use.
The type of financing patients use to pay for hearing healthcare services or products can positively or negatively impact how they view your practice. Here are actions you can take to improve, according to Nikolas Becker, senior financial controller at Livingston Audiology & Hearing Aid Center in Lubbock, Texas:
Provide written patient materials, such as a welcome guide or brochure about the payment option. It describes how it works and addresses the most frequently asked questions.
Have a member of your team review these materials with your patients so that they know what to expect from the payment option and where to go if they need more information.
Look for a third-party financing option that reaches out to patients— soon after they have chosen to use the payment option. Timely follow-up (1 to 2 days after the patient signs up for that program) gives the patient financing provider, such as CareCredit, a chance to ensure the patients understand what to do to make sure their account is paid off on time. Plus, this also determines if the patient’s purchase would qualify for any special or promotional financing offers and gives the opportunity to answer any questions.
Find out if the patients can contact live customer service reps from the third-party financing company — whenever needed. The rep should specialize in healthcare financing.
Make sure it is easy for the patient to manage their account. When it’s time for patients to pay their account each month, the process should be simple; they should be able to pay their bill using a method that’s convenient for them: online, by mail, or by phone.
Give patients a financing experience you can be proud of — that’s the main factor you should look for in the patient financing company you choose. For example, CareCredit gives member providers support and resources such as free educational CDs, a free Patient Referral Program, Practice Performance Review, and other tools to help practices grow.
Final thoughts about providing a positive patient experience
“Recognize that patient experience is not an initiative, but rather an operating standard you can never stop addressing…It should become a way of being versus an initiative.”
– Jason A. Wolf, PhD, executive director, The Beryl Institute – a global community of practice and premier thought leaders on patient experience
“Remember, from the time patients find out about your practice, call for an appointment, see you, and walk out of your door, they are making conscious and unconscious observations about you, your staff, and your environment. In many, if not most cases, the patient is not judging your technological expertise, because most patients aren’t familiar with hearing healthcare and don’t know what to expect. Judgments determining the level of care received are often derived from impressions obtained from the practice and the way you and the staff treat them.”
– Gyl Kasewurm, AuD, in private practice in St. Joseph, Mich, for over 30 years and serves as a consultant for CareCredit
“I’ve noticed that Hearing Health Care Professionals who consistently apply these best practices are not only seeing changes in their patient relationships, but they are actually seeing positive changes in themselves.”
– Steve Eagon, MA, is Director of In-Clinic Success at Unitron, Plymouth, Minn.
“We healthcare professionals often comment on the fact that much of what we have discussed with a patient isn’t retained or understood. I wonder how much of that is due to our failure to make sure we are communicating well.”
– Dennis Van Vliet, AuD, Sr. Director of Professional Relations for Starkey Hearing Technologies
Image credits: CareCredit; © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com